American coal is produced in 24 states and exported to a total of 76 countries. Exports flow in every direction – from Atlantic and Pacific Ocean ports, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.
Metallurgical coal is exported for use in making steel. Steam coal is exported for use in generating electricity.
In 2012, the European Union accounted for 45 percent of U.S. coal exports by volume. (Netherlands and the United Kingdom were the two largest destinations.) China was the third largest destination, and Asia accounted for 26 percent of 2012 U.S. coal exports.
Demand for U.S. coal has been increasing rapidly in both Europe and Asia. The rising demand is driven by new coal-fueled power plants being constructed. (More than 395 gigawatts of new coal-fueled capacity is expected online by 2016.) Steel production is also expected to grow 20 percent by 2016, requiring an additional 200 million tons per year of metallurgical coal.
Demand for coal is expected to grow especially rapidly in China and India, where urbanization and modernization are taking place on an unprecedented scale.
Although it is already the largest coal producer in the world by far, China is unable to meet its own demand for coal. China’s import demand is expected to continue to grow by nearly 12 percent per year for the foreseeable future.
India is the fastest growing coal export market, however. The country is expected to start about 75 gigawatts of new coal-fueled electricity generation over the next five years, eventually requiring an additional 250 million tons per year of steam coal. Multiple new port projects are under way in India to enable increased coal imports.